Education

Oh Noes!!11! Glacirs not meltin. Mak IPCC bad!

In case you haven’t heard, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is dead, done in by the nefarious failure to check a single reference in a 3000 page report. Or rather, that’s what climate disruption deniers want you to think. Here’s what’s really going on.

Back in 2007, Working Group 2 (WG2) of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) put together a large list of what climate disruption was likely to impact around the world. One of the impacts was reduced availability of fresh water due to rapidly melting glaciers around the world, and especially in the Himalayas. One of the specific claims was that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, an amazingly and likely unrealistically fast rate of melting. After an Indian government minister questioned this claim, scientists looked into it and found that the date was incorrect and that internal procedures for vetting references weren’t followed in this particular case. As as result, the IPCC has issued a formal statement of apology for the error.

And if this were about any other topic except climate disruption, that would be the end of it.

But given the denial echo chamber, that’s not the end of it. Instead, we have <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/01/20/panels-glacier-disaster-claims-melting-away/?test=latestnews"Fox News calling this "the latest scandal in global warming science" and giving a platform to fossil fuel-funded deniers like Cato's Patrick J. Michaels. We have conservative columnist Lorne Gunter of the National Post essentially claiming that the IPCC has failed utterly due to this single error. We have Peter Foster, also of the National Post, claiming that this “is further evidence that the entire IPCC process has been corrupt from the start,” even as he acknowledges that the error represents a mere 300 words in a 3000 page document. Rick Moran of the libertarian blog American Thinker says this is “simply one more indication that the proponents of AGW don’t care about the science and are promoting a political agenda.” And that from a blog that starts with a complaint that climate activists want “to use this information to steal trillions from the world’s most productive nations.” Pot, meet kettle.

I’d like to see anyone write 3000 pages of scientific data and technical detail without messing up a few times. That this relatively minor point is being proclaimed loudly around the land as the a death blow to the IPCC’s AR4 conclusions means that all the other supposed death blows since 2007 have failed to take. Ben Webster of the Times Online makes a very good point when he says

Climate sceptics around the world have spent two years scrutinizing every claim made by the panel. So far they have identified one serious error; it seems unlikely that they will find many more.

So yes, the IPCC made an error here. But the general conclusion that glaciers are melting hasn’t moved a micrometer as a result. Tibet’s glaciers have still melted so much that scientists can’t detect the radiation from US and Soviet nuclear tests in the 1950s. Glaciers around Juneau, Alaska have still melted so much that the land is rebounding amazingly quickly. Glaciers in Switzerland are still melting fast enough that previously stored organic pollutants like DDT are being re-released into the environment at dangerously high concentrations.

This contrived scandal is fated to go the way of all the other climate scandals that have been created out of the ether – it’ll become just another “fatal blow” to anthropogenic climate disruption that is steamrollered by actual climate science and data. Soon, this too will become a “scandal” only in the minds of the truly reality-challenged climate disruption deniers.

12 replies »

  1. Evidently messing up on the fact that glaciers routinely advance and retreat due to moisture content variations and activity of the jet stream – el Nino effects for instance – are not enough to see that ‘science is being fixed around the policy’. I’m sure you recognize the genesis of that paraphrase.

    I haven’t found a ‘climate change’ denier yet. What I have found is skeptics who think that the species which produces 1 kilogram of CO2 each daily by their existence has forgotten that the plant food so produced stimulates growth. Since climate is always changing, it might be instructive to note the large bloc of third world nations that protested the interests of the US, etc. at Copenhagen were not on reducing pollution : but on taxing Third World nations for burning fuel at a higher rate than the nations which were profligate in wasting it !

    That isn’t indicative of concern by industrialized nations at all, is it ? You’d have to think that paupers figured it another load of b.s. to take their income.

    • And even though you came here to comment, you still clearly didn’t read the actual post above. Or, if you did, you didn’t understand it. Variations in El Nino is a weather effect that doesn’t have a long-term (measured on the scale of decades), global impact on glacier advance and retreat – El Nino turns to La Nina and back too fast for it to be a climate driver. And yet the vast majority of glaciers around the world are retreating rapidly. And as for the jet stream, its day to day variations drive weather, but it’s driven by warming – driven poleward, specifically, as the tropics warm as a response to anthropogenic climate disruption.

      Sorry, opit, but there’s a difference between a skeptic and a denier. A skeptic looks at the mass of science underlying anthropogenic climate disruption as a a block of swiss cheese and finds the holes more compelling than the cheese itself. A denier rejects the existence of the cheese in the first place.

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, however, and hope that your “plant food” and glacier comments are merely borne of ignorance instead of outright denial. So, as I did in response to your comment at Care2, I’ll provide you with the same links here.

      First, data shows that under realistic growing conditions and an increased CO2 concentration, cereal crops become less nutritious as a result of higher CO2 (here’s the actual paper, rather than my reporting on it). Note that the paper shows that the mean losses in protein content were 13.9%, 15.3%, 9.9%, and 9.8% for potatoes, barley, rice, and wheat respectively.

      Second, while cassava and sorghum didn’t lose protein content, they became poisonous as a result of higher CO2 and the crop yields plummeted – at less than double current CO2 concentrations, crop yield for cassava fell by 90%. Again, here’s the actual paper rather than my own reporting on it. Go read it for yourself. Oh, and another paper by the same research group found that white clover, an important pasture food for domesticated animals, will become more poisonous at higher CO2 concentrations too (the cyanide-generating compounds that the paper discusses are more poisonous to animals when protein content drops, and the clover’s protein content dropped by 2x).

      So, even if plants do grow more, higher CO2 means that there will be less food for people and animals to eat.

      But a recent study shows that the plant food argument is almost certainly wrong. The paper shows that the “plant food” argument depends on the amount of available nitrogen in the soil, and the amount of fixed nitrogen isn’t going to go up anywhere near fast enough to permit plants to suck up CO2 at even the rate that climatologists have estimated to date.

      Remember – the plant food argument comes from the fact that greenhouses pump in CO2 to help their crops grow better. But greenhouses also use massive amounts of artificial fertilizer, aka fixed nitrogen. The earth’s biosphere in general doesn’t have artificial fertilizer available to it.

  2. REAL skeptics don’t look at the holes and ignore the cheese, I don’t think. I’d call that a cynic. I like to think of myself as a skeptic, which I think of as being the opposite of “gullible.” But I also like to think that I generally play the odds. Skepticism can keep you out of trouble and cause you to ask some tough questions about Internet chain mail, but it becomes counterproductive when it goes over the edge into cynicism.

    I’d say that pretty much all the scientists I know are skeptics. They have to have something proven to them with hard data, and then they often have to get their hands on it and prove it to themselves, as well. I don’t know many scientists who are cynics, though. Once something seems 95% probable or better through repeated experimentation and/or observation, most pretty much come around.

    • Fair point, JS. My swiss cheese analogy isn’t perfect by any means, and I’m always looking for a better one to describe the difference between a denier and a climate disruption “skeptic.” I haven’t found one yet, unfortunately.

      The point remains, though, that there is a serious difference between a supposed skeptic and a denier. In my experience, most people who claim skepticism with regard to human-induced climate disruption flat out reject some piece of scientific data that has is supported by overwhelming data. And as such, I still categorize them as deniers.

      There are precious few true skeptics left in the “humans aren’t the cause of climate change” camp, because if someone can be convinced by data, the data is almost utterly compelling. There are precious few holes left, and while one or two of those holes have a chance to be a showstopper, nearly every new journal issue that comes out has new information that plugs up those holes a little more. At this point, being a skeptic of anthropogenic climate disruption requires that you hope that clouds and/or aerosols overwhelm long-term trends in greenhouse gases, and what data there is seems not to support that hypothesis.

  3. Yeah, Brian, I’m not sure there are any skeptics left in the climate debate, but there are probably a fair amount of cynics.

  4. On this thread you have shown an increase in CO2 does not equate to an increase in food supply. Isn’t that somewhat off topic to the premise of AGW ?
    But if you wanted proofs that burning coal for power generation is a disaster of a ‘game plan’ because of accumulated radioactive rare earth elements being concentrated into unstable leaking ‘containment’ systems that threaten flooding and pollution which resists cleanup…that would be a different matter.
    We seem to be talking ‘past’ each other more than in disagreement of the need for remedial actions to correct disastrous environmental threats.
    That is my objection to AGW : it poses a distraction from pollution concerns with a tax scheme favouring the rich and powerful. I have no reason to promote that program.Nor have I seen proofs that the sacrifices are worthwhile.

    • Opit,

      Neither you nor I have been talking about the fundamental science of AGW here – the physics of IR absorption of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, black body temperatures, climate sensitivity, the accuracy of various different methods of measuring temperature, and so on. You made a point that CO2 is “plant food,” and I responded with evidence that this was not always the case.

      I happen to agree with you that the concerns over climate disruption have come to dominate the environmental movement as of late, and that’s unfortunate. When Clean Water Action came by my home last year and asked me where I thought they should be spending their energy, I told them NOT to spend it in climate, because everyone else is focusing on climate, and we need groups to focus on all the other things that are critically important but not directly tied to climate.

      Climate disruption is something that needs to be addressed for a plethora of reasons, because if it’s not, the best science available says that climate disruption will eventually make all the other environmental problems worse. But that doesn’t mean I think we should ignore those other problems. I report on climate because that’s where my interests lie.

      As for cap/trade or carbon tax, I’m personally not thrilled with cap/trade as it’s defined in Congress these days – too many giveaways to fossil fuel companies, for example. But the science that the globe is warming, and that human consumption of fossil fuels is the cause, is nigh upon irrefutable at this point. If you care to discuss some of that science, I’d be happy to do so. As I’m presently focused on reporting on new scientific papers and what they mean for climate, there will be plenty of opportunity.

  5. I’m in an odd position here.
    I usually leave the discussion of scientific fact to scientists. When I am prompted by knowledge of institutional lying to assess credibility of the idea that a snow job is being pulled ; run across a scheme to promote a taxation levy and find poor nations scoffing that it favours polluters…the bullshit detector is on alert. When that is then backstopped by notes from ever-increasing numbers of debaters that all is not well in the bureau of responsible scientific assessment…I have to use my best guess as to whether the arguments that insufficient data is being used to promulgate an oversimplified model are reasonable.
    Knowing that millions are being spent to spin the results and that resources desired by the perpetrators of international resource wars – and past masters in bullshit – are in play : notes that a scam is being perpetrated are too credible for for easy dismissal.
    So you’re right, in a way. I am taking the default position that impartiality is compromised : the ‘science’ data manipulation another point of interest in the collecting of what is normal for theoretical proposals…varying points of view. ‘ Alleged ‘consensus’ from corporate media won’t cut it.

    • Uhhh, wait. So we can’t trust the science showing global warming and climate disruption because it plays to the interests of … the corporations who are doing the polluting?

      One of us is missing something.

  6. Now that’s an incisive observation. But you haven’t read my Dec 4 and 20 notes on the NPT and Global Warming I expect : an unlikely conjunction that seems to hold up under analysis of what foreign policy actually has been – rather than what is promoted as making sense.

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